Author Archives: Kei Franklin

A Day in the Life

4:30 (in theory)  Wake up – thanks to the beeping of Anshuman’s watch or a chorus of roosters

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5:00  Eat a breakfast of fruit, bread, and occasionally Maggi Mee

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5:30 – 6:00  Get on the road!

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7:00  Our first Breakfast stop (hopefully after about 25km of riding)

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7:30   On the road again…

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8:30   Stop to take a photo of someone and their chakrayan (bicycle)

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9:30  Get lost, ask for directions with exaggerated hand gestures and our disintegrating map

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10:00  Shade and Food Break

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11:00   Stop to take a photo of a cock fight

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11:30 – 13:30   Eat lunch and chat about life, our families, methods of applying sunscreen, our favorite foods, etc.

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13:30  Start riding, only to realize that Kei has a flat tire

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13:31 Fix itIMG_4374

 

14:30  Stop to take a photo of someone and their chakrayan

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15:00 – 16:00 Ask for a nearby Wat (Temple) where we can sleep. Arrive at the Wat.

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16:00  Laundry Time

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17:30 – 18:00 Find Dinner (likely at a Monk Initiation ceremony/ party)

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18:30 – 21:00 Group reflection, writing, reading, wander around, walk, pray with monks, Push-ups with Master Marcus, Abs with Anshuman, Yoga with Kei

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21:00 (in theory)   Long- awaited sleep!

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A Glimpse

We stop at least four times per day to eat. On each of these occasions, the three water bottles I have consumed in the last hour start to catch up with me, and I ask to use the hong nam (toilet).
While this practice began as merely a mundane necessity, it has become one of my favorite parts about stopping.

Most shop/ roadside restaurant owners use portion of their house as their business. What separates their professional and personal lives is as simple as a thin curtain, a door, a staircase.

I adore seeing the innards of these homes.
The bathroom is a particularly ‘human’ space, what with the disheveled toothbrushes and near-empty shampoo bottles. But often I even get to walk through other rooms on my way to the hong nam (toilet).

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Laundry over Malaysian Kampung

I’ve seen:

A fish tank with the largest luohan fish ever
A shadowed living room-cum-bedroom-cum-kitchen
A dusty lipstick among piles of what had to be Grandmother’s jewellry
Walls upon walls of laminated family photographs
Laundry forgotten on the backs of chairs
Holographic Mickey Mouse images and coloring books
Personal shrines for Grandfather, a specific monk, a deity, all of the above
Many many very large box-televisions

There are two beautiful things about these moments:
1) They are accidental, happenstance, raw, real, honest. The path the hong nam happens to be where and how it is. The homes are not prepared for my visit, and I appreciate them for their clutter, or emptiness.
2) They are unrecorded. Even while writing this, it is difficult for me to remember the details of the insides of the unlit homes. I never think to bring my camera (and it would be intrusive), and thus the full splendor of the home exists, for me, only in the moments I observe it.

I love to see where the dishes are washed, which possessions are most central in the room, which pictures are on the walls, how they are slanted, how the headscarf looks when its hanging over the cupboard door…

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Signs there must be a little one near

Yesterday I sat at a small concrete table, underneath a blue tarp awning in Songkhla, writing postcards and smiling to myself as the rain jutted fiercely out of the sky. I watched as school children scampered past, with their Scouts-like uniforms, clean-cropped hair, and swinging leather messenger bags.
I’d be kidding if I said I wasn’t drenched. A Grandmother motioned for me to come under her awning. We sat in silence as her saucer-eyed toddler Grandson sneaked his cupped hand out under the sky to feel the rain drops.

People might think that people-watching is a creepy hobby, but I disagree. We want to see how other people are naturally, how they live, how they think.
I often find that my presence (being a white female traveler) alters the spaces I enter too greatly for me to really see them. I get frustrated by how self-consciousness, and I cannot focus on the details.

Under this awning, in the shadow of the rain, I felt enormously relieved – I was watching without being watched.

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Preparing Som Thum – Raw Papaya Salad

So, whether it is:
gazing upon school children as they flood the streets to buy their favorite electric green drink and fried after-school snack, or
catching my reflection in an anonymous yet oh-so-personal dresser mirror, or
quietly following behind our new-found monk friends as they receive their morning alms,
these mute  glimpses show me the daily, the mundane – things which can never rightly be told with our few Thai words or many exaggerated gestures.

On my way back from the hong nam I linger just a while longer – not ready to face the bright sunlight, the bicycles, the journey, the movement. I breathe in all the somehow-familiar newness and feel grateful for all that means  ‘home’.

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Toddler running bare in Sakom Beach

 

Giving: The Final Language of Love

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Ru: Our Angel in Disguise

They say there are five languages of love – that is, mediums people use to express their love. They are: Gifts, Time, Words, Touch, and Acts of Service.

I would like to propose a 6th: the language of Receiving.
To receive and to accept love, kindness, and acts of service, is in itself a language of love. In order to receive, we must humble ourselves – bow our heads equal to the weight of the acts of charity we are receiving.

This thought was inspired by Ru.
Ru is an Angel who disguised herself as our first Warm Showers host in Butterworth, Malaysia (Warm Showers is an online free hosting forum for touring cyclists. It’s epic, check it out).

We arrived in Butterworth by bus early in the morning. We entertained ourselves with ukulele jamming and getting lost before finally making our way to Ru’s parents house on the North side of Butterworth.
According to her birth certificate, Ru is a 41 year old Chinese-Malaysian. She is sure that the doctor (and her mother) mixed up her year of birth. At heart (and in body and mind) she is a budding 22 year old, excited about the world, enthusiastic, open, adventurous, curious, innovative, hopeful.
She has lived in Malaysia her whole life, save for two years when she lived in India and Eastern Europe while working for a non-profit Innovate for Change. She currently works at a hipster book shop still in its infancy on Penang Island.

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Our culinary endeavors in Butterworth

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The Ru Pose

Ru drove us around Butterworth, showing us her favorite secret eateries and some of oldest bike shops. She shared her story and her thoughts openly, and was eager to hear ours.

Ru seems to embody many of the ideas I can access only as abstractions. She is completley unpretentious in her belief that ‘everything happens for a reason’. She believes whole heartedly in giving and ‘Paying it Forward’. She shared her life philosophy equation: Surrender + Truth = Love. She has faith that everything works out for people who believe that it will. She also gracefully embodies ‘femininity’ in her trust in intuition and empathy.

She is actively minimizing her attachment to possessions. She is learning to play the guitar, the ukulele, and the Guqin. She takes wood carving lessons just because. Her words of advice to us are: “Just go, start now!”

I’m quite certain I’ve never met such a child like adult before. I am inspired.

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Setting off!

At one point in our almost too-perfect day with Ru, I realized that I would actually never be able to express gratitude enough to match her kindess. This realization made me uncomfortable. What does one do with excess giving? How does one respond? Does Ru expect something – if so, what? If not, how?

Finally, at the end of the day, Ru asked us one favor.
We had just finished a dinner of delicious Laksa and Mee Goreng at a very ‘ulu’ restaurant outside of Butterworth. Her father had treated us to dinner, and I felt somehow guilty that our langauge barriers made me unable to say anything but ‘thank you’. After dinner, her father (in his late 60’s) briskly left the restaurant to return to his work at an electronics distribution outlet. When he was walking away, Ru smiled and said “Please give my Father a hug.”
We all quickly ran after him and gave him hugs and Thank-yous for our meal. He looked slightly taken aback, but mostly grateful and pleasantly surprised.

Later that night, Ru asked that we hug her Mother as well.
“My parents have given us love for our whole lives. They don’t know how to get it back, though.”
She explained how she cannot give them hugs because it would be too sudden of a change.
“But you can, you can show them how to change”.

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Ru woke up at 5 am to make us Breakfast

This simple act of reciprocation made me really question the act of giving. Giving cannot be a one-way street. Successful giving requires a receiver to accept the gift.
Ru is full of giving, all she needs is people in need who are open to receiving. If we can exchange anything  for the wisdom she passed on to us, I am happy that it be gratitude.

I often feel I am not doing enough to say Thank You. I am only now beginning to understand the power of Reception, the final Language of Love.

 

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